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Sonning Bishop's Palace
A Place of Prisoners & Pilgrims

Sonning Bishop's Palace in Medieval Times

  • In Saxon times, Sonning was the home of a minor King called Sunna. It means 'Sunna's People'. He owned other villages at Sunninghill, Sunningdale and Sunningwell. His kingdom covered most of East Berkshire. It was called Sunningum.
  • In AD 909, Sonning Church became a Cathedral for the new Bishop of Ramsbury & Sonning. Ramsbury is in Wiltshire, near Hungerford. The Bishop had a wooden palace next to his Cathedral where they often lived.
  • Later the Bishop moved his Cathedral to Salisbury in Wiltshire, but he still lived at the palace in Sonning when visiting Berkshire.
  • In Medieval times, the palace was rebuilt in stone. In 1337, the Bishop was given permission to 'crenellate' it, like a castle.
  • Lots of pilgrims visited Sonning to see the relic of St. Sarik which was kept in the church.
  • During King John's war with his Barons, he made the Bishop of Salisbury keep some of his enemies prisoner at Sonning Palace.
  • Queen Isabella was also imprisoned there in 1396. Her husband, King Richard II, had been locked up by his cousin, Henry IV, who wanted to be King instead.
  • Richard's friend, the Earl of Salisbury from Bisham 'Abbey' Manor, tried to start a rebellion against King Henry. He visited Isabella at Sonning, but she couldn't help him. She was only 7 years old!
  • In Tudor times, Queen Elizabeth I bought Sonning Palace. She visited occasionally but left a steward to look after it for most of the time.
  • Later Kings and Queens ignored the place and it began to fall down. Just before the English Civil War, King Charles I was short of cash and sold it to raise some money.
  • In 1654, Sir Thomas Rich bought the old palace. He pulled it down and built himself a new house called Holme Park. He was a rich merchant from Gloucester.
  • A Georgian House was built there by the Palmer family in 1796 and updated again in 1881.
  • The house is now the Reading Blue Coat School.


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